March 19, 2019

Exhibition ‘Medieval gardens. Earthly paradises in East and West’

On show at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden from 3 May 2019

Medieval gardens will blossom this summer in the charming exhibition ‘Medieval gardens. Earthly paradises in East and West’ in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden (the Netherlands). Visitors can enjoy stories about the medieval garden and its plants, herbs and flowers, from Europe to the Middle East. In addition to vegetable and ornamental gardens, visitors can also explore gardening in the Middle Ages, love gardens, paradise as a garden and ‘the garden inside’. On display are medieval illuminated manuscripts, herbariums, flower carpets, paintings and prints, excavated garden tools, tile panels and crockery with flower motifs. The exhibition can be viewed from 3 May to 1 September 2019.

In the exhibition, archaeological finds and works of art paint a picture of the wealth, importance and diversity of gardens in the Western Christian and Eastern Islamic world between 1200 and 1600 AD. Visitors can enjoy millefiori and paradise carpets, herbariums with dried plants, illuminated books with ideal gardens and oriental tiles with floral motifs. Also on display are medieval tools and excavated watering cans, seeds and feathers, falcon hoods, chess pieces, medicine pots and musical instruments. In a sunny and colourful design with arbours and birdsong, visitors can smell herbs and flowers, design their own garden and digitally browse medieval books with garden scenes. Rare paintings, prints and miniatures offer an introduction to a lovely Madonna in a rose garden, a Persian prince at a fountain and a fierce Italian gardener.

Gardens played an important role in the lives of medieval people. Not only practically, for food and medicine, but also for leisure, hunting and the game of love. The word ‘paradise’ is derived from the Old- Persian word for garden, pairidaeza. Both in the Qur’an and in the Bible, paradise is described as a garden with ever flowing rivers, evergreen plants and animals and man in harmony. The exhibition bridges the gap between gardens in Western and Eastern cultures, thereby highlighting their similarities. In both spheres it is about the luxury of being outside, between blossoming flowers and reflected in clear water, with pavilions for relaxation, meals, concerts and poetry readings. The vast, symmetrical garden by a castle or palace is also a status symbol, where guests are received and ‘seduced’ into games, conversation, or a stolen kiss.

The exhibition is a collaboration with the Leiden Botanical Gardens. On display are loans from among others the collections of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Leiden University Library, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, and the heritage services of Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft, Alkmaar, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Antwerp. The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is supported by the BankGiro Lottery.

A booklet (in Dutch, 64 pgs., €9.95) and a RMO Magazine (in Dutch, €3.50) will accompany the exhibition. There is a free audio tour highlighting medieval music and a supplementary programme including lectures, guided tours and botanical drawing workshops. The museum shop has a special garden assortment. During the annual children’s summer event Kunstdetective, children can also get to work in the medieval gardens.

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